National News

Catholic Charities a Steady Presence in Aftermath

A woman and a child in Uvalde, Texas, walk May 30, 2022, near the memorial at Robb Elementary School where a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers May 24. (Photo: CNS/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters)

UVALDE, Texas — Two weeks ago, the Sacred Heart Catholic Church Sunday school classrooms were filled with catechists and students. Today, the classrooms are an outpost for Catholic Charities of San Antonio (CCSA), as the organization works alongside local clergy to do “whatever it takes” for those affected by the Robb Elementary School shooting.

Faith-based counselors, case managers, and an attorney are available on site. Financially, the organization is prepared to cover funeral expenses, and travel expenses for the victims’ families to get to Uvalde, according to CCSA president/CEO Antonio Fernandez.

They’re even replacing the purple iPhone 12 of a student who was in the classroom where the gunman opened fire. She lost both her phone and glasses in the attack.

“This is going to be forever and so what does it mean for Catholic Charities to buy a phone for a little girl? Nothing. If that’s what we can do for her, then why not?” Fernandez told The Tablet. “I think they’re going to have all of these memories, all of these things, for many, many, years, so whatever we can do to make their lives better that’s what we’re supposed to be doing.

“We have made a commitment to help them with whatever they want,” he continued.

The efforts by CCSA complement those of local clergy who have provided, and will continue to provide, spiritual support to the Uvalde community on an around-the-clock basis.

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio met with the student that CCSA bought the iPhone for, with her family, last week. He also comforted the children of slain teacher Irma Garcia, who lost their father Joe Garcia to a heart attack days later, and met with many other of the victims’ families. Others he’s met with include the ambulance driver that brought the children from the school to the hospital, the law enforcement official whose job it was to take pictures of the bodies after the shooting and the man who called 911 from the school.

Archbishop Siller has also led at least four Masses at Sacred Heart in the past week.

“I feel that my heart is, by the grace of God, very large and has expanded, and as the heart has expanded, meaning love, so has the ability to connect with people and to respect people individually and collectively,” Archbishop Siller told The Tablet.

Father Matthew De Leon, the pastor of three nearby churches, is another clergyman that has been on the front lines of providing spiritual support to the Uvalde community. After one of the Masses last week at about 9:39 p.m., Father De Leon, who with Archbishop Siller had led efforts at Sacred Heart, with its usual pastor away and traveling back, raced from the parish building to unlock the church doors when he noticed a few community members couldn’t get in to pray.

He too was at the hospital and met with some of the families, and even hospitalized children, where he said the single most common thing he heard from people was “to pray for them.” And on May 26 The Tablet was at the CCSA relief outpost when Father DeLeon guided an elderly woman through the doors, and from there met with CCSA workers.

“We came here today to offer a little bit of love and support, and we’ll be here tomorrow to offer a little more, and then the next day, and the next day, as long as we need to be here,” Father DeLeon told The Tablet, echoing a message from Archbishop Siller.

When people enter the CCSA outpost for support, they’ll go to one of two classrooms the organization has set up. They’ll then be greeted by one of the workers. On a table in front of them, there are more than a dozen paper resources for people that include tips on talking to children after a crisis, and specifically about the shooting. There are also other tables with water bottles and toys for any children that come in — stuffed animals, coloring books, and board games.

When The Tablet spoke with Fernandez on the afternoon of May 26, he said four families had come in that day for faith-based counseling. He added that others aren’t ready yet, and some were hesitant to leave their homes because of the media presence in town. To accommodate these families, CCSA is offering in-home counseling.

He said the CCSA presence in Uvalde will continue as long as it’s needed.

“This is not on our time. It is on their time. And whenever they’re ready we just need to be there for them,” Fernandez said. “They know that they have the priests here for them and the counselors ready for them — whoever they want to talk to. To me, it’s just going to take time.”